HOLDEN, LA (WAFB) - Fighting flames by night and hitting the books by day, a high school senior in Holden says he has a plan to fireproof several homes in the area. Blake Jackson, 18, looks like your average teenager, but outside the classroom, he's far from it.
"I was the second truck on scene that night. So I was right there when the fire was really rolling," Jackson said, thinking back to what he calls the worst fatal fire he's ever worked.
February 15th, 2011, Jackson says he got a page to respond to a mobile home fire on Hob Hodges Road. The fire sparked in the 25000 block of Hob Hodges Road in Holden around 12:40 a.m. and destroyed the trailer.
"I looked at my chief and said what you want us to do. And he said grab a hose and go," he said.
Minutes before, three children and their father made it out of the burning trailer. Their mother, Elizabeth Ballard, 30, was trapped inside with her daughter Michelle, 7. Firemen were unable to rescue them.
As firefighters were getting the upper hand on the blaze, Jackson was told to bring one of the small survivors from a nearby home to a waiting ambulance. He says as he and another young fireman were carrying the 5-year-old kindergartner, she told them she couldn't wake her big sister up.
But she did remember one thing; "Only way she knew how to get out was she remembered firemen came to her school and told her to stay low and crawl out," said Jackson. Jackson was one of those firefighters. "That was one of the most amazing things anybody's ever told me."
For one week during the school year, volunteer firemen teach fire safety. After learning the mobile home had no working fire alarms, Jackson came up with an idea called Project S.A.F.E. - Smoke Alarms For Everyone.
He drafted a letter asking local businesses to donate money to Holden High so they can purchase smoke detectors and give them out to students. He says usually during fire safety week, they give students plastic fire hats and pencils, but he says he wants to take that a step farther, and give smoke detectors; something that could have a real impact on their lives.
The letter is on school letter head, signed by the principal. So he hopes the community will take him seriously.
"No better feeling in the world than knowing something that small saved somebody's life...cause that's something huge."
Jackson says so far, he's received a $250 donation. He says once he graduates, he wants to enroll at LSU's fire academy.
If you'd like to donate to Project S.A.F.E., you can send a check to Holden School at 30120 LA 441, Holden, Louisiana, or call (225) 567-9367 for more information.
The letter sent to businesses reads:
Dear Business Partner:
On Wednesday, February 15, 2012 a horrific, mobile home fire claimed the life of seven year old Michelle Ballard and her mother, Elizabeth. Michelle and her mother were unable to escape the flames that trapped them in a back bedroom where the only exit would have been through a small window. The house had no working smoke alarms, which could have save this precious child and her mother.
To honor Michelle and Elizabeth, Holden High has established Project S.A.F.E. - Smoke Alarms For Everyone. This project is dedicated to fire safety and ensuring that all of our students' homes have adequately working smoke detectors.
In the event of a fire, there is unequivocal and irrefutable evidence that a working smoke detector in the home increases the chance of survival dramatically. Detectors improve a family's chance of escaping a fire without serious injury or death by 80 percent. Children in homes with no smoke detector are twice as likely to die in the event of a fire as children who live with working detectors.
We are asking your business to help support this project. All proceeds will be used to purchase smoke detectors and batteries for families in the Holden Community. a donation of any kind would be greatly appreciated.
Paula Green, Holden School Principal